Notre Dame's thinnest position got a huge boost Sunday afternoon when receiver Avery Davis announced he will return for a sixth season with the Irish, making use of the extra year of eligibility the NCAA afforded to all players because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Davis was a Notre Dame captain in 2021 and will have a very good chance to be the 24th or 25th two-time captain in Irish history (fellow 2021 captain Jarrett Patterson also announced today he is returning). The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder was one of Notre Dame's more productive receivers through the middle part of the 2021 campaign, catching 27 passes for 386 yards and four touchdowns in eight games before tearing his ACL against Navy and missing the rest of the season. The knee injury will also keep Davis out for spring practice, in all likelihood.
The Irish were extremely thin at receiver at the end of the year, following season-ending injuries to Davis and Joe Wilkins Jr. and the early-season transfer of Lawrence Keys III. Without them, Notre Dame had only three scholarship receivers with any meaningful experience available for the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State. To make matters worse, of the three players that decommitted from Notre Dame's 2022 recruiting class following the departure of former coach Brian Kelly for LSU, two of them were wide receivers, including the class's top-ranked offensive player, CJ Williams, who signed with USC instead. That left only one wideout, Tobias Merriweather, in the '22 class.
Once Kevin Austin Jr., who led the Irish in most pass-catching categories this season, declared for the NFL Draft, Notre Dame was in significant trouble at receiver, with only Braden Lenzy and Lorenzo Styles Jr. certain to return among players with any significant experience. Davis's decision to come back, then, is an extremely important one. Not only is he a team leader and a player who has been productive for two seasons in a row, he represents depth the Irish desperately need at the position. Assuming Styles plays one of the wideout spots, Lenzy could play out wide on the other side of the field with Davis in the slot or Davis could slide to the outside if need be. His presence gives youngsters Merriweather, Deion Colzie and Jayden Thomas a chance to grow into their roles rather than getting thrust into the spotlight before they're ready.
Davis's decision also means one of the most improbable journeys in recent Notre Dame history will continue for another year. Davis came to South Bend as a highly-touted quarterback recruit, but spent his first several seasons on campus bouncing around to different positions, getting reps at cornerback and running back before finding a home at slot receiver in 2020, when he caught 24 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers included two enormous receptions in the final 70 seconds of regulation against then-No. 1 Clemson in November. The Irish went on to beat the Tigers in overtime after Davis caught the tying touchdown with 22 seconds left in regulation, etching him into Notre Dame lore for the foreseeable future.
You'd be hard-pressed to find another player in college football who has switched positions three times at one school without transferring and Davis not only did it, but wound up a captain and will get a shot to end his career on a high note in 2022.